Baseball-Almanac.com's Divisional Series section
2000 National League Divisional Series:
St. Louis Cardinals (3),
Atlanta Braves (0)
The St. Louis Cardinals steamrolled into the 2000 season with a 7-1 win over rival Chicago on Opening Day and remained in first place for all but three days. By the All-Star break, the Redbirds held an impressive eight-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds and ended their season as National League Central Division Champions, 10 games ahead of their nearest competition. With a 95-67 record, the team became the 23rd in franchise history (and first since 1987) to reach 90 wins in a regular season. Amazingly strong at the plate, St. Louis boasted 21 different homerun hitters who posted a team-record 235 "round-trippers" for the year. Pitching however was the "ace" in the hole for St. Louis. Starter Darryl Kile led the Redbird's rotation with 20 wins (finishing second in the N.L. in victories) and became the first 20-game winner in a Cardinals uniform since 1985. Left-handed rookie sensation Rick Ankiel finished second in Rookie of the Year balloting with an 11-7 record and a 3.50 ERA that was eighth among all National League pitchers. He also struck out 194 batters while breaking the record of 191 previously set by Dizzy Dean in 1932.
Their opponents, the Atlanta Braves, were returning for yet another Divisional Series following a season of franchise highs and lows. While hosting the annual All-Star Game at Turner Field (for the first time in 28 years), hometown favorite Chipper Jones became only the thirteenth player to hit an All-Star home run in his home ballpark. That highlight however (as with most of the season) was overshadowed by an off-season controversy that had refused to go away involving pitcher John Rocker. During an interview with Sports Illustrated, Rocker made several racial remarks in regards to New York City and it's large immigrant population. He was later suspended for fourteen days, but allowed to attend Spring Training after paying an undisclosed fine and attending sensitivity training as well as psychological testing. Despite the media circus that followed, Atlanta still managed to win and unprecedented ninth straight division title. Chipper Jones followed his '99 MVP season with another, hitting .311 with 36 homers and 111 RBIs. In doing so Jones became only the second third baseman in Major League history to notch five straight 100+ RBI seasons, joining the Pirates' Pie Traynor 1927-31. Always dominant on the mound, the Brave's rotation remained among the best in the league. Pitcher Tom Glavine placed second in National League's Cy Young balloting finishing 21-9 with a 3.40 ERA. In addition, Glavine also became the 96th pitcher in history to reach the 200-win mark, ending the year with 208 victories. As usual, Greg Maddux won 19 games for the 4th time in 6 seasons (19-0, 3.00), while reeling off an amazing 39.1 consecutive scoreless inning streak from September 2nd to the 28th.
Despite a terrible performance by Ankiel in the opener, the Cardinals managed to win 7-5 thanks to a six-run first inning and 6 1/3 superb innings from their bullpen. The 21-year-old rookie standout entered Game 1 as the youngest postseason starter since Fernando Valenzuela (20, 1980), and proceeded to walk five, then compounded that with 5 wild pitches in the third inning. Completely out of character, Ankiel's wildness made him the first pitcher (in 110 years) to throw five wild pitches in a single inning since Sept. 15, 1890. Luckily, St. Louis' bullpen was able to go the distance after their young "prodigy" was pulled after surrendering 4 runs in the third. The Braves grabbed the early momentum in Game 2 by scratching out two runs in the first inning. But Will Clark launched a three-run homer in the bottom of the first and St. Louis never looked back. Experiencing what Ankiel had in the opener, Tom Glavine was pounded for 7 runs and 6 hits in only 2 1/3 innings for his shortest outing in seven years. Once again, the Cardinals prevailed beating the Braves 10-4 to take a 2-0 lead in the series. Will Clark came up big erasing a 2-0 first-inning deficit with a 3-run homer, and Mark McGwire, limited to one at-bat per game because of knee pain, limped out of the Cardinals dugout in the eighth to hit a "storybook" pinch homer off Mike Remlinger. Game 3 sealed the deal for St. Louis as they completed a shocking three-game-sweep over the perennial Divisional Series champions. To date, the Braves had been 5-0 in the NLDS and had never been swept before from any playoff series in their heroic run. Fernando Vina and Jim Edmonds led the charge as both homered and drove in three runs for St. Louis. The Cardinals bullpen also came up big (again) for a clutch no-hit effort for 5 1/3 innings in relief of injured starter Garrett Stephenson and a 7-1 pass to the National League Championship.
The New York Mets returned for their second consecutive playoff run in 2000 despite a less-than-stellar September. After losing 7 of their first 8 games to open the month, New York rallied to win 9 of their last 11 games en rout to a playoff berth. Their biggest offensive weapon, perennial All-Star catcher Mike Piazza had hit .222 with 5 homers and 12 RBIs for the month. Piazza's efforts were supported by 5, 11-game winners who made up arguably the first "deep" rotation in the Mets' clubhouse since 1988. With a 94-68 record and a .580 winning percentage, many fans felt that this was the year for the rebirth of the infamous "Subway Series" as the Yankees were favored to take the American League title. Their counterparts, the San Francisco Giants were also coming off of a milestone season after opening their new ballpark by the bay christened Pacific Bell Park. Despite losing the first six games in their new yard and 11 of their first 15 games overall, the Giants managed to turn the tide and won their second division title in four years after leading the league with 97 wins. Jeff Kent won the National League Most Valuable Player Award and skipper Dusty Baker captured his third Manager Of The Year title. Both teams had already been a hot story during the 2000 season after the Mets defeated the Giants 3-2 on August 12th despite a costly mental error by Benny Agbayani. The embarrassed outfielder had caught a textbook fly for the 2nd out in the 4th inning, them mistakenly handed it to a 7-year-old boy in the stands thinking it was the third out of the inning. As Agbayani turned to trot off of the field, two Giant runners scored. It wasn't enough to take the game, but it was enough to ignite some disparaging remarks from the other team's players fueling a postseason trash-talking session between the East and West Coast.
Game 1 opened in San Francisco's favor after Livan Hernandez improved his career postseason record to 5-0 with 7 2/3 innings of 5-hit ball. Barry Bonds, who came into the series with a career playoff batting average of just .200, managed a single in his first at-bat, then added a 2-out RBI triple in the 3rd-inning to put the Giants ahead for good. The 5-1 victory was San Francisco's first playoff victory in 8 seasons under Baker. Unfortunately, it would be their last. Mets rookie Timo Perez, (who had replaced the injured Derek Bell) stole the show in Game 2 after driving in two runs with a bases loaded single in the second inning. Fellow rookie Jay Payton also came up big with a decisive RBI single in the 10th. On the defensive side, starting pitcher Al Leiter allowed just 5 hits and 2 runs in 8 innings for a Series-evening 5-4 decision. Game 3 turned into a marathon 13-inning effort as both clubs held each other in check. The Mets, held hitless through 5 innings by Giants right-hander Russ Ortiz, fought back from a 2-0 deficit with runs in the 6th and 8th innings, tying the game on an Edgardo Alfonzo RBI double. In a strange twist, it was Agbayani who was finally able to "save face" with a clutch solo homer off San Francisco's Aaron Fultz in the 13th. The 5 hour and 22 minute game set a new MLB record as the longest extra-inning game in National League and American League Division Series history. The fourth (and final) meeting showcased the talents of Mets starting pitcher Bobby J. Jones who arguably pitched the greatest game in Mets history. An unlikely hero, he had been left off of the previous year's playoff roster and was eventually sent to the minors in June. Working his way back to the "Show" Jones remained steadfast and pitched the first one-hit shutout in the postseason since Boston's Jim Lonborg in the 1967 World Series against St. Louis. Despite surrendering a double to Jeff Kent and 2 walks in the 5th, the "redeemed righty" managed to regain his composure. With insurance from teammate Robin Ventura (who had a two-run homer in the first) Jones was able to "tear" off a 4-0 triumph and later, a turnstile ticket to the "Subway Series".
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